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2024 Interface trailblazer award goes to Dr. Christian Erni

Updated: Jun 9

The Interface Commission is honored to award Dr. Christian Erni the 2024 Interface Trailblazer award for for his inspiring work combining anthropological insights and long-term advocacy with Indigenous Peoples in Asia. His work demonstrates the value of critical analysis, dialogue and long-term engagement.

Chrigi Erni tribute from Danilo Geiger

There are many worlds to choose from when we seek a place in life – the worlds of personal success, a professional career, material affluence, the family. Chrigi Erni cast his lot with the Fourth World, a choice that he made as a student and fieldworker, and never abandoned since. As some of us go after completing fieldwork, he asked himself what it was that he could give in return to the people who had put him up, fed and looked after him for so many months – in his case the Buhid hill dwellers in Mindoro, the Philippines. He decided he would root for their human rights and the rights of other bad-off and beleaguered indigenous minority peoples in that country - and, as time went on, indigenous peoples elsewhere in Asia and the world at large. Four decades later after a distinguished career as one of the most respected advocates for Asia’s indigenous peoples, he is still there, greeting us from his mountain home in Manipur, India, reminding us that anthropology can indeed contribute, in small but significant ways, to making the world a better place.

 Dr. Christian Erni’s Journey with Indigenous Peoples of Asia, Jannie Lasimbang

Christian Erni is not only a scholar who has done research as part of his doctorate in anthropology, but is actively engaged with indigenous researchers, communities and organisations to promote and protect indigenous peoples rights.  His collaboration with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) since the early 1980’s centres on fundamental issues of indigenous identity, traditional knowledge, conservation and self-determination.  His knowledge and understanding of indigenous peoples, particularly in Asia, is extensive and is based on decades of actual living and working with communities.  His good relationship, commitment and engagement with indigenous leaders in the region strengthens his work and made his work authoritative.

Jannie Lasimbang, Kapayan Assemblywoman, Sabah, Malaysia

AIPP Secretary General (2000-2008)

Research, advocacy and publishing with activists and ecologists

It has been an immense pleasure and honour to know, work with, and befriend, anthropologist Chris Erni (Dr. Christian Erni) for over two decades. This has been in the context of strategic indigenous peoples’ rights meetings at national and international levels, editing of publications related to indigenous peoples’ rights, and informal chats in between such. His research, advocacy and publishing over the decades have been shaped by the associations he has formed with indigenous rights activists and ecologists globally, and particularly in Asia. He is also fun to be with: modest, unassuming, thoughtful, loyal and generous. 

Raja Devasish Roy, Chairperson, Maleya Foundation, Former Member, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Engagement with Indigenous Peoples in Asia: a perspective from IWGIA

Christian Erni's work at IWGIA was crucial in developing and shaping the organization’s engagement with Indigenous Peoples in Asia. His solid academic anthropological skills and profound knowledge of the situation of Indigenous peoples in Asia provided a strong foundation for IWGIA’s efforts in the region. He developed a robust program aimed at supporting Indigenous Peoples' organizations, documenting their situation, and advocating for the recognition and protection of their rights. As the Asia Program Coordinator, his unwavering commitment to the cause of Indigenous Peoples in Asia led to the creation of a program rooted in the recognition of their right to self-determination and true partnership. Among his many contributions, it is important to highlight his dedication to supporting Indigenous partners in Asia to develop capacity-building programs to strengthen their advocacy efforts to advance the protection of their rights at the national, regional, and international levels.


Lola García-Alix, IWGIA

Living with and for cultures, languages and communities

I first met Chris when he was planning his move to Chiang Mai, a city which had been my home for 6 years. One of the things he was thinking about was languages, which of the dominant or minority dialects he would focus on learning, and which of the many indigenous languages. Chris was the first person I ever spoke to who actively sought out learning Khum Muang, a ‘provincial’ and minority dialect from the north in which few Thais even saw value. Chris always sought out, and lived with and for, cultures, languages and communities that others could regard as being on the margins, and found value and values everywhere he was. I’m glad I was able to learn from him.

Helen Tugendhat, Forest Peoples Programme

A video perspective from Christian Erni himself

Why an interface award?

Anthropological engagement outside is academia impressive, yet often neglected or invisible. Our award seeks to shed light on interface work and insights.

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